Anna Barbara Wunderlick

Anna Barbara Wunderlick, my great grandmother, was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in 1819 to Jacob and Catherine Wunderlick. Her grandfather, Daniel Wunderlick, had come to this country in 1753 at the age of 16 from Ludwigsburg, Germany. Anna was one of ten children all of whom survived to adulthood. Nothing is known of her childhood. She married William Powers Dexter in 1840 in Galena, Illinois.

Their first child was born on a farm in Wadam Township, Illinois, thirty miles from Galena. Harlan Page was born in 1841 and died at age three in 1844 just one month before Julia was born . Julia lived to adulthood but Lydia and Lucy born in 1845 and 1846 died at ages four months and two years , respectively. Thomas was born in February 1848 just one month before Lucy's death. The family bible can only capture a glimpse of the pain borne by this woman as she watched three children die in seven years. After recording the death of her first child she wrote:

He was to us a dream
Of loveliness and light
Fair bud How did we dream
Thine opening would be bright
On earth it has not blessed us yet
But fairer blooms in Paradise

She went on to give birth to five more children, one child approximately every two years. Of the last five only one, her daughter Mary, died in childhood at the age of nineteen months. Mary's death was also recorded with a poem:

Ah! little bud too pure to grow
in such a checkered world as this
Tis said that thou has gone to blow
Where all is beauty all is bliss
Our little circle broke again
The tiniest head is bending low
Each thrill of joy is changed to pain
And pleasure put on weeds of whoe
Oh could we look beyond the tomb
And see our little Mary there
Arrayed in Heavens unfolding bloom
And like the angels pure and fair
We think we'd bow beneath the rod
Or heave a sigh or shed a tear
We'd think...of four who live with God
And three who are left to stay with here

In 1855 Anna Barbara and William put their children and their belongings in a covered wagon and went back to Galena, leaving the farm life behind. William was a cabinetmaker and family tradition says that his shop was over the store of Jesse Grant, the father of Ulysses Grant. Five years later they packed the family in the wagon again and moved further west to Polk City, Iowa. There were six children by now , the oldest eleven and the youngest just a few months old. Polk City was on the outskirts of Des Moines, and provided William with a ready market for his cabinet work. After two years in Polk City they moved again into Des Moines. They finally put down roots and lived here until William's death in 1885.

Thomas, the eldest son, worked with his father as a wood turner, while his brother Talbot apprenticed to the Iowa State Register, the local newspaper. One night the paper was behind schedule. Folding was all done by hand at that time. Talbot came up with the idea of putting the paper through two printing rollers, the first time a paper had been folded mechanically. Talbot remained with the newspaper for seventeen years, improving his inventions. In 1880, financed by a group of Des Moines business men, he founded the Dexter Manufacturing Company. His father, at the age of seventy five, made the original wooden frames for the folders. In 1890, seeking a better market for the folding machines, Talbot moved the company to Fulton , New York and changed the name to The Dexter Folder Company.

William died in 1885 and Anna Barbara moved to Little Rock to live with her son Thomas and Mary Ann. Thomas had left home by 1870, married to his cousin Mary Ann, to homestead in the far northwest corner of Iowa. They bought 320 acres of land in Little Rock, Iowa. They were one of the first families to settle in this area. This was prairie land, rich black soil, where corn and millet and hay grew almost by itself. My grandfather said he could plow ground for a mile and not hit a stone.

Anna Barbara died in 1893 leaving behind a diary chronicling a brief part of her life. Her diary begins in June of 1890 as her son Talbot and his family visited on their way to Fulton , New York., starting a new life, leaving family and friends behind. Travel was not an easy thing at that time and she writes, "They are gone. Oh how we miss them. The visit was so pleasant but the parting is always so sad. I assume we will meet again." By then the train was the major means of travel and I can only hope that Talbot did visit his mother a few times before she died. Anna put all her faith in God as she wrote " I am thinking of my dear ones on the train. It is so good to know that God's loving care is over them. That he will carry them safely through.

Through photographs of her , we know that she was quite heavy . Walking must have been difficult as she wrote of sitting in the doorway observing the threshing or enjoying the breeze. Many comments in her diary deal with her pleasure in anticipation of a ride in the buggy. These rides are of such great importance to her and she generally made some reference to her health after every trip. She says, "Thomas came up after me. I was real sick early in the morn. But I knew nothing would help me as much as a ride. so I went to spend a pleasant day & came home in the evening feeling so much better."

She spent her days observing the daily life of those around her, contributing whenever she could. When her daughter Katie had her third child Anna went to stay with her and help with the baby. Writing in her diary, " Went up to Katie's today to see the little stranger. A fine baby & Katie is doing nicely the children delight with their little sister. It is still cool no greater blessing could we ask for Katie. Truly God is good."

Each Sunday entry referred to her God in some way, Sunday, July 20. It is such a cool pleasant day I fancy I see Talbot & M in church today in their new home. How I wish I too could be there." Sunday, August 3. " A terrible Hail storm. Lasted about one hour, did great damage to the grain & corn. It was fearful. It is one of the dark providences." Sunday, August 10." A pleasant day. Oh how I wish I could be in the dear old home today And go to church to hear W minister on grace. But Jesus is just as willing to meet with me here all alone and bless his holy name he is near me today" Sunday, August 17." Another Sabbath has come. I am thinking of my dear children in Fulton & I see them going to church. Oh if I could only be there too. Why am I deprived of all gospel privileges ( God knows why ) so I must not reprieve." Sunday, September 21. " A lovely day. I imagine I hear the sound of the Churching bells. I see Mary & Irvie getting ready to go to church. And Myrtle right on her Papas lap saying By By & oh how I wish I could be there in that dear home if I had wings how quickly I would fly there." It appears that Talbot is her only son who practices his religion as she writes on Wednesday, December 10. "Nice day And I am feeling so well. I am still trusting in the Lord I have many things to praise him for But the one upper most just now Is that I have one dear boy who loves the Lord". Talbot and Mary, his wife, meant so much to her and they were the ones who had moved farthest away but she took this in stride as well. Talbot continued to succeed in the manufacturing business and Anna gave thanks to her God for this . "Willie brought me a letter from Talbot today fro Boston, saying he is better pleased every day with the new home & with his business prospects. I will bless the dear God for this opening as long as I live."

Although most of this time Anna struggles with illness, she manages to keep a cheerful outlook on life, accepting her fate as God parcels it out. October 31. "Was taken very ill last night with Neuralgie in my head & face. I never suffered more in all my life. M Ann put hot bags of Wheat bran to my face & toward morning I found some relief & next day I was so very weak." November 1. "I am feeling better. So much better that I came up home today. Thomas brought me up I had been gone a week & Baby knew me, she just crowed & reached out her hand to come to me." November 2. "I am still feeling better but am weak yet. The children have all gone to Sunday School. I will be with thee always. In every condition, in sickness & in health, has been such a sweet thought to me today."

Life was not always sad, there were many moments of gladness, especially when visitors came or when she was with her grandchildren. November 27, "Thanksgiving day. How many happy family gatherings there will be today. If I could only have all my loved ones here today to take dinner at. The goose is in baking But we shall have only our own folks here." November 29. Julia & James [her daughter & son in law] were here today. took dinner with us. I was so glad to see Julia, we had a pleasant time." December 2. "This morning we found the ground covered with snow to the depth of 5 inches the good sleighing. I am feeling quite well & in good spirits. They are all here. 8 men to butcher one hog, 2 calves. No danger of starvation this winter." December 4. "The finest kind of sleighing but very cold. The children could not go to school. So Katie set them to work picking the feathers of 11 chickens." Her happiest day was Christmas. December 25. "Xmas dawned upon us clear & cold. The house rang with Merry Xmas from all the children in chorus as they flung open my bed room. It brought joy to my heart. After breakfast we will all go over to Mr. Stoges." December 26. " Well we arrived safe at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Stoge before any of the guest came. Mr. & Mrs. Kagin & all their family. We had a splendid dinner But the music was the greatest feast to me. Ida played on the organ & Mill & her brother sang "Nearer my God' It was so sweet. It had such soothing effect on my feelings came home feeling much better than when I went away." December 29. "Some colder today. Have been looking over our Xmas presents the children & I. We are all little children now. Well has not our Saviour said except ye become as little children ye shall in no way enter the kingdom.

Anna Barbara died May 10, 1893 at the age of 74. Her portrait , taken towards the end of her life depicts a grim face, severe hair do and staring eyes. We would not have known of the kindness in her heart, the deep love of her family, her skill as an observer of life, her pleasure in the simple things if we had not had her diary. A little 3 x 5 book into which she put so much of herself.

This article was transcribed by Barbara Dexter Schwartz.

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